MONTPELIER — Representatives of Vermont retailers joined with local, state and federal elected officials Monday to promote Vermont shopping as the biggest weeks in retail quickly approach.
The coordinated message was simple and very clear: Buy Vermont products from local retailers.
Vermont Retail Association Executive Director Tasha Wallis said most of Vermont’s small retailers are people from the local communities they serve.
“They’re our friends, they’re our neighbors, sometimes they’re our children’s coaches, sometimes they hire our offspring to work in the summer months,” she said.
But local retailers are facing more and more challenges in today’s market.
Wallis said online shopping and the spread of smartphones and tablets has hurt sales.
“This year, now more than ever, consumers armed with smart phones are shopping the Internet, making it more and more challenging for Vermont’s retailers. So, we’re really all just here today to remind everybody of the wonderful, fascinating treasure trove of Vermont products and opportunities for shopping around the state,” she said.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter Welch also noted the challenges small retailers are facing as shoppers increasingly use local retail stores “basically as a showroom and then they buy online.”
Money spent in local communities tends to stay there, Welch said. And the money will support the places that help build stronger communities.
“The glue that holds communities together is small retail. It’s folks who are totally invested in the well-being of where they live, who provide employment to local people including young people,” he said. “You don’t have a community without a vibrant downtown and you don’t have a vibrant downtown without people shopping in those downtowns.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin, also noted the importance of local retailers and Vermont’s downtowns, urging Vermonters and visitors to do their holiday shopping there.
“As we go into the shopping season we all know that the greatest strength in Vermont is our downtowns, our communities, the fact that Vermonters take care of each other, reach out to each other and develop friendships because we are in our downtowns actually knowing our neighbors and reaching out to them,” he said. “That’s what downtowns are all about and that’s what holidays are all about.”
The governor said there are “extraordinary things” going on in retail operations across the state. Vermont is seeing “a rebirth in our downtowns,” he said, and Vermonters are understanding that shopping locally helps to “create jobs and keep our downtowns strong.”
“I would urge Vermonters today, as we go into the holiday shopping season, to buy Vermont. Buy Vermont. If you spend your money in Vermont it keeps money in Vermont, it creates jobs, economic opportunities and it keeps our downtowns strong.”
Shumlin recently hailed the opening of a new Walmart store in St. Albans. Large retailers with discount pricing are often blamed as the primary reason small, local stores close.
Asked Monday about the seemingly disparate messages between the Walmart opening and Monday’s event, Shumlin said he is simply urging people to shop anywhere in the state.
“We’re saying shop in Vermont. That’s really important,” Shumlin said. “I’m not suggesting that we pick one store over another, I’m saying by shopping in Vermont we keep our downtowns strong, we keep our stores strong.”
“I’m not going to presume to ask Vermonters where to shop in Vermont. I just hope they’ll shop Vermont,” he added.
Shumlin said local retailers are facing more challenges from online shopping than from large retailers.
“When you buy online, you’re not supporting a local Vermont retailer,” he said.
Meanwhile, Montpelier Mayor John Hollar urged shoppers to step away from online retailers and visit downtowns across the state.
“It’s a great way to spend the day, so I would encourage people to push away from the computer to spend time in your downtowns. They don’t happen by accident. They’re great places to be,” he said.
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